I’m not great at bars. I love going to them, but the range of drinks I’m willing to consume is pretty limited. I’m good with a nice IPA or a Gin and Tonic, and while I’ll experiment with cocktails, I usually stay away. So here’s a list of bars that occasionally talks about drinks, but mostly doesn’t.
Fiume (pronounced Few– May)
229 S 45th St.
Good luck finding Fiume the first time you go looking for it. You have to walk in Abyssinia, past the main dining room and up the stairs. Open the door and be careful when you walk in because this literally ten foot by fifteen foot space is so crowded, you’ll run into a wall of people.
The ambiance of this place is lovely. In the corner by the window overlooking 45th and Locust is a band playing bluegrass tunes, and I find myself whistling along. Seemingly everybody here besides my friends is a regular: the bartender greets everyone by name and knows most of their drinks. The small tables are full, but everybody has a seat, and for a tiny space, it doesn’t feel overstuffed.
The most important part of the experience is easily the drinks, because they pack a hell of a punch. The cocktails at Fiume are some of the best I’ve ever had. Prepared by a friendly bartender who knew how to ex- plain to me in the most genuine and eager way possible that the new $22 bourbon–aged beer had just a hint of marshmallow underneath its full body, the Flotsam and Jetsam ($13) is a potent beverage. The fifteen–year–old El Dorado Rum is not your average Solo Rum from PV; even after mixing it with Apricot Brandy, seltzer and a handful of other ingredients, the darker coffee and pepper notes still shined through. The drink and ambiance were worth the (steep) price, and after one of these, I was definitely feeling it.
124 S. 13th St.
There’s a small alley in between Sampan and the Philadelphia Club that I probably would not walk down if there weren’t an oasis of alcohol on the other side of it. But trek down that dark tunnel and you end up at Graffiti Bar, a little outdoor nook that has a very charming atmosphere. There are space heaters and glass panes to keep the hot air in, and as the name would imply, there is graffiti everywhere. I’m not sure this could be an all–night destination—the beer list is short and the cocktails looked pretty meh—but I would definitely stop in again as part of a Gayborhood bar crawl.
1100 Chestnut St.
Milk Boy isn’t really a bar; it’s primarily a music venue. But given how cool their secondary business is, I wouldn’t wait to go see a show there.
They offer a variety of Citywides (beer and whiskey combos). I stuck with the $6 Yuengling–and–a–Whiskey original version, but the El Jefe (Patron Silver and Tecate, $13) could be an interesting take on the tried–and–true favorite if I could handle my tequila. That’s exactly why I didn’t order the Marshall Stack Manhattan (Anejo Tequila, Carpano Antica and Agnostura Bitters, $13) which the friendly barkeep recommended but would not sit well with yours truly. If you’re feeling adventurous, or just catching a show upstairs, definitely try one.
4333 Spruce St.
It’s startling that a random poll of my friends– which is highly scientific and definitely representative of the Penn population– showed that not so many people know about this terrific crafts and drafts bar at 44th and Spruce. So let me implore you to gently prod at the constraints of the Penn Bubble and go try some damn good beer at a place with a thorough, but not overwhelming, beer list (lookin’ at you, Tap House). Though if you do feel like being overwhelmed by choice, the next–door bottle shop has every beer you could possibly want. The food is phenomenal, and I highly recommend coming for Happy Hour (5 p.m.–7 p.m.) for $3 and $4 snacks, and $3 local beers. I got wings, fries and a beer for $10. That’s a hell of a meal.
3924 Chestnut St.
There are two types of dive bars: The hipstery ones that have a rundown aesthetic and dark mood lighting that have been open for, like, a year; and the ones that are literal holes in the face of the Earth. The Pit is the latter. An industry bar that’s only open for alcohol between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., I have ended many a night here when 2 a.m. feels too early to return home. This place is sometimes called “Legion Bar” because it’s run by a post of the American Legion (the soldiers from the post who have died in service are memorialized on the wall above the pool table), but some locals have assured me that it’s really called The Pit. Those locals, by the way, are very much not Penn students, so if you go, don’t be obnoxious (general rule of thumb, but these guys can and will kick your ass). Shoot some pool, put something on the jukebox and enjoy a $3 Yuengling.
347 S 13th St.
The fact that I’m even writing up Dirty Frank’s is a little internally conflicting. This old Gayborhood haunt has the feel of a place that used to be a major part of the community but is now slowly being co–opted by yuppies. There was an interesting vibe when I went: half the bar was old people and locals, the other half was young Society Hill button–downs. They seemed to get along very well though. The music was on point—I heard everything from the Rolling Stones to Britney Spears, with some Metallica in between. Stick around for the Dirty Frank’s special, which is a shot of a vodka/ triple sec/lime juice concoction and a 7 oz High Life for $2.50.
The Trestle Inn
339 N 11th St.
The Trestle Inn is a whiskey and go–go bar in an old warehouse underneath the Reading Railroad viaduct— in other words, is the kind of dive bar that is assuredly not The Pit. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad; far from it. I tend to avoid whiskey, so I didn’t really try much of anything, but I had a great time sitting and people- watching. There are go–go dancers in each of the room’s four corners; three different projectors show old movies, music videos and TV shows with actors who somehow all have feather boas and intricate costumes; the crowd is all over the place. If you want a new experience vaguely reminiscent of that time David Bowie went on Soul Train at a bar that sounds like something out of a Stefon sketch (this is better than it sounds, I promise), head out to the Trestle Inn.